Now that we've taken a look at the Detroit Red Wings' pending UFAs, it's time to dive into the younger players with expiring deals. Of the multitude of RFAs the Red Wings have to make decisions on this summer, Petr Mrazek is one of the players that should be easy. Figuring out his next contract, on the other hand, may not be.
#34 / G / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 14, 1992
Mrazek made his NHL debut mere months after he started out the 2012-13 season with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. Mrazek quickly earned his way back up to the Griffins, where he took over the starter’s position from the incumbent Tom McCollum. He backstopped Grand Rapids to their first playoff berth in six years, and their first ever Calder Cup.
He saw a fair amount of time in the NHL in the following season, due to various injuries to Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson, but he really made his biggest splash in the league last year.
When Jonas Gustavsson suffered a dislocated shoulder in November of 2014, Mrazek came up from Grand Rapids with the knowledge that he’d get the chance to be a surefire NHL backup for the extensive duration of the Monster’s injury. When Howard went down with what appeared to be a severe injury himself only two months later, Mrazek had to step unquestionably into the starter’s role. His play down the stretch, despite a rough patch, earned him the start in the playoffs against Tampa Bay. Mrazek almost single-handedly got the Red Wings to the second round, shutting out the high-octane Lightning offense twice and only letting in one goal in the decisive Game Seven.
Both Red Wings fans and Mrazek himself had high expectations for the young Czech’s first full season in the NHL. It wasn’t a surprise that the new head coach decided to go with a rotation in the early weeks, as both goaltenders were playing well and getting wins for their team. It also wasn’t a surprise to many when Mrazek eventually seized the starting role from Howard, nor was his stretch of absolutely dominant play in the middle of the season that had his name in Vezina talks by mid-February. Mrazek had shown that kind of ability in Grand Rapids, in Toledo, in the 2012 WJC, to carry his team through stretches of mistakes and minimal offense.
Mrazek then went through a bad stretch of his own, not dissimilar to what we saw the previous year. It was inexplicable technical errors that he hadn’t been making for most of the season, and somehow a player known for his seemingly-unshakeable confidence suddenly had none. He was pulled in multiple starts in a short time, much like last year. Though Howard was yanked in a few of his starts as well, the elder goalie was able to play well enough to allow Mrazek to tweak the technical aspects of his game back to what we were used to seeing.
Overall, Mrazek did make an improvement in his numbers from last season. In nearly double the number of minutes and seeing nearly double the number of shots, he saw a decrease in GAA (2.33, down from 2.38 in 2014-15) and an uptick in his save percentage (.921, up from .918 in 2014-15).
Howard and Mrazek saw split time in the Red Wings’ five playoff games this season, and while Mrazek earned another shutout, it was the only post-season win for the team, in a series where the Wings scored 8 goals in 15 periods of hockey.
Now the younger of the two Detroit netminders is up for a contract extension, already one year removed from his entry-level contract. Mrazek’s three-year ELC ($595k cap hit) was set to end after the 2014-15 season, and with the progress and promise he showed in his starts sprinkled into the previous two years, it was assumed that he was going to spend that final ELC year in the NHL. When Detroit decided to bring back Gustavsson for one more year, the Wings signed Mrazek to a one-year, one-way deal for the 2015-16 season at $737,500. Many fans, myself included, saw that as a contract to make up for having to spend one more season in the minors when just about everybody thought Mrazek had earned his way to the NHL’s backup spot by then. Of course, due to the aforementioned injuries, he spent most of that year in Detroit anyway.
Mrazek is still a young player with only one full season as an NHL goaltender under his belt. He got a lot of great experience in the starter's role for much of the year, and if he can work on his consistency, he will easily find himself the permanent number one goalie in Detroit for years down the road. Even better, the whispers of Vezina candidacy this early in his career may be a sign of things to come for the young Czech.
Edit, because I've seen some people ask: Yes, we know that this will be a near-unanimous "Pro" vote. This is an ongoing series of debates in which some players will have more obvious answers. Make your vote in the poll below and feel free to use the comments as a place to discuss the contract you think Mrazek deserves.